Malignant: Ingrid Bisu on Their Bonkers Horror Movie and How They Brought Gabriel to Life on Set - VRGyani News and Media


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Malignant: Ingrid Bisu on Their Bonkers Horror Movie and How They Brought Gabriel to Life on Set

[Editor’s note: The following contains major spoilers from Malignant.]

Directed by James Wan from a story by Wan & Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper, the horror thriller Malignant follows Madison (Annabelle Wallis) as she becomes consumed by shocking visions of grisly murders that are very real and very terrifying. The twists and turns that lead to her uncovering exactly what’s happening are wild, will make you question how they pulled it off, and leave you applauding that they even had the confidence to try.

During this 1-on-1 spoiler-filled interview with Collider, Romanian actress Bisu, who’s also an executive producer on the film alongside husband Wan, talked about how the seed of this idea started, how quickly that initial idea developed into a film, what led them to feel like this was something they could pull off, watching the practical stunts take place on set, what she enjoys about working with her husband, how her character in the film evolved, and that they already have plans in the works to turn another original idea into a film.

Collider: I appreciate you talking to me about this because I have been doing nothing, but having conversations about this movie since I saw it, which has just been delightful. Thank you for that.

INGRID BISU: Oh, my God, I really appreciate you saying that. Thank you.

Bravo and kudos on pulling off keeping the secrets about this movie and surprising people. That’s not easy to do.

BISU: I know. That’s what we felt too. You can see everything coming, so we wanted to make sure that this twist was just gonna blow people’s minds. I feel like we managed to do that.

I’m one of those people who tends to guess where things are headed pretty early on, but even though I had a little bit of an inkling that something was up, only because I’m a dancer and I’m very familiar with contortionists and I could tell something was going on with the physicality, I still didn’t know what exactly was happening and it blew my mind.

BISU: Gotcha. I love to hear that. That’s fantastic. It’s cool that you, as a dancer, obviously could tell that there was something different about the body movement. We had a fantastic contortionist on this, so that’s pretty cool that you could spot that.

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How did this come about? I know that you pitched the idea that started all of this to your husband, James Wan, but what led to this idea? Are these just the kind of things you ponder?

BISU: I think my therapist would say yes. She actually said that she couldn’t finish the movie because it is too messed up for her. She just started feeling like she couldn’t handle it. I was like, “As long as you don’t drop me as a client, I think I will be okay.” Basically, I’ve always been fascinated with teratomas and the idea of parasitic twins and twins, in general. The idea that there’s something inside of you that’s making you do horrible things and you’re not really in control of your own body, there are a lot of metaphors in there for that. For us, the location was the most important, like in the back of the head, and to have this dual thing happening, with Gabriel on one side and Madison on the other. I would say the pitch developed pretty quickly. It was a pretty fast thing. We took it and ran with it together and started working in James’ office at home with our doggies, so that was pretty cool. We’d be like, “Okay, so when he takes control of her body, what happens? What if, because he’s on this side, he just takes full control, and then the arms move this way.”

We didn’t know how it was gonna work. It’s like thinking that I’m going to be an astronaut one day, but I don’t know how I’m gonna make that happen. It’s just a big dream. We were like, “We’re probably gonna need a fantastic contortionist. Do they exist? Is that something?” I didn’t know about the world of body movement and contortion. I had no idea about any of that. We had a great team of people who found Marina Mazepa and Troy James and they managed to pull it off. I don’t know how they did it. It was crazy, when they came in to audition and to show what they’ve got, we were all screaming. It just blew our minds. We were like, “Yeah, I think you can pull this off. I think you can do it for us.” If they couldn’t do it, then the movie wouldn’t work. It was as simple as that. You can have the craziest idea in the world and if there’s nobody there to implement it, then it’s useless. And so, the fact that they were able to pull this off, a lot of it is practical and not CGI. With the fight scene, obviously the blood and all that is fake, but the rest of it is really practical. It was just a lot of rehearsals and a lot of choreography, and they pulled it off.

I love that your first thought was, “How can we find somebody to do this?,” and not just creating it all in a computer.

BISU: Yeah, absolutely. It didn’t even cross my mind that this could be just a CGI thing. I can’t imagine the budget that we would have had to have for it to even look close to being realistic. And then, I just feel like the cool factor would have been out. The fact that a human being can do this is the whole point. It is Madison. It is her body. So, that was a massive part of it.

What was that like to watch on set? Were there times on set where it was just hard not to laugh because it was so crazy? What would the blooper reel look like?

BISU: For me, it was more sweating than laughing. It was more like, “Oh, my God, is that gonna be okay? Is she gonna be okay? Can she do that? Is she gonna hurt herself? Is this gonna be okay?” The scene when Gabriel smashes that window and then jumps those floors, there are moments when they added some CGI, but that was done practical in a building in downtown LA. Our stunt guy was attached to a wire and he just flung himself out the window, and then fell and grabbed onto it. He had to do it a second time because the first time he slipped. He wasn’t able to grab onto the thing. And I was on my knees next to the director’s chair, praying that he was gonna be okay and that I wasn’t gonna actually kill somebody in making this movie, and he did it. The second time, it worked, but I literally felt like I was gonna faint. A lot of it was practical, even though sometimes it did need a little bit of help in making it look more fluid. The movements and everything that was needed for Gabriel, those scenes were practical.

You were in The Nun and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, as an actress. When did the creative relationship that you have with James become something where you started sharing ideas for movies with him? Is that something you guys have always done together, even if a movie didn’t necessarily come out of it?

BISU: We’ve always wanted to work together, in terms of creating an IP, and just creating something brand new. There have been moments in time where I was like, “I have a concept,” but it, it wasn’t necessarily something that I felt like I could tell what direction I would take it, so it didn’t have sustainability. And then, when this one happened, I think it was in 2018 when he was editing for Aquaman and it started slowly developing. It took a long time, but I could tell from the first second when I pitched it to him, that he was caught. It’s that moment that I hadn’t seen before, so I was like, “This is it. This is the one.” We moved pretty rapidly. We just ran with it. Aquaman has its premiere, and then he had some downtime and was like, “We could either go on a vacation, or we can make this crazy movie.” He didn’t have to make this movie, he wanted to make the movie. It was a work of love, truly.

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Filmmakers often talk about doing a movie the size of something like Aquaman, so that they can do something like Malignant, which is a movie that needs to have a very specific vision without much interference from outside voices.

BISU: Exactly. We had our amazing partners at Starlight Media, a Chinese investing company, and they were the ones that just went in blind. It was just like, “Yep, we trust you.” And I was like, “I hope we don’t disappoint,” when someone has so much faith in you. But they were blown away. They were like, “We are onboard with this. We’re gonna ride it until the wheels fall off.” And that’s what we did. We didn’t have any interference. We didn’t have to go and get approval and ask, “Do you think this is okay? Do we need to cut this out?” No. It was purely James’s vision at the end. That is what allowed us. Nobody stopped us.

Who was the first person you showed this to? What was the first reaction that you got?

BISU: It was probably Michael Clear at Atomic Monster, James’ right-hand man, and he was like, “It’s crazy, let’s do it!” I think a lot of people were taken aback with the confidence that we had. We were like, “We’re gonna pull this off, don’t you worry.” But of course, inside I was like, “Oh, my God, what’s gonna happen?!” I was having nightmares and freak outs and panic attacks, but the front was, “We got this!” It was very much our friends and people that we know in the business that we’re close to, and we were like, “Listen, we’ve got something crazy going on. What do you think about this?” And they were like, “You should do it.”

This is definitely a movie that needed a very specific vision, or it could have gone so very wrong.

BISU: I agree, and we are playing that fine line. That’s why some of the reactions are so polarizing. It’s either, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, in my entire life,” or “This is it, I’ve never seen a better movie.” I think it’s a testament to how shocking this movie is, the fact that the opinions are so split. Nobody’s like, “Eh, I didn’t feel anything.” You did. You felt it. And so, that makes me just really happy.

What do you and James typically talk about in your downtime? Are you always discussing ideas for wild horror movies? Do you ever come up with great ideas for romantic comedies?

BISU: Right now, most of our conversations are about Malignant and sharing the crazy things that people write to us because we are getting so much love. I got only three messages from people that hated it. I’m like, “Wow, this is very little compared to the amount of love that I’m getting.” It’s a lot about, “Have you seen this? Oh, my God, did you see this meme?” We’re getting memes, which I love, as long as they don’t put a spoiler in it. I’m very worried about spoiling it. People are very excited to talk about it. That’s pretty much our primary conversation right now. And then, we may or may not have something else in the pipe. We had a lot of time during the pandemic, in 2020 when we were locked down at home and we followed all of the rules. All we had to do was just come up with things, and there is a process that has perhaps started, with a whole original idea.

That’s very exciting.

BISU: Thank you.

What excites you about James’ work, as a filmmaker? You’ve worked on other sets, but what is it about the way that he runs a set and the way he approaches storytelling that most stands out for you?

BISU: The fact that he knows exactly what he wants. It’s like an artist who can look at a block of marble and see the creation inside, so they just chip around it. That’s exactly how James is. When he goes to set, he literally knows where he’s gonna put the camera, where the lighting is gonna be, and how he wants to shoot it. It’s crazy. My mind does not work like that. I do not have that directorial sensibility, whatsoever. I know my limitations. There are no limits for James. That is one of the things that makes me be so in awe. It’s almost like you have the best driver and you’re just sitting there in the car and you feel safe because you know that they know in which direction they’re going, that they’re gonna protect you, you’re gonna be safe, you’re gonna get to the destination in a really cool way, and the journey is gonna be amazing.

He’s very well-respected by everybody that he’s worked with. I’ve heard a lot of gossip on sets, and I’ve never heard anybody, even if they didn’t know I was listening, say anything bad about James. He’s such a respectful person and he doesn’t have that attitude that I’ve seen with some directors who aren’t even that big. They don’t talk to the crew, or they only talk to the head of the department. James is not like that. We’ll all eat together. We’ll all go to the cantina. There’s nobody getting their food in their trailer. I know some people do, and I’m not trying to say that’s a bad thing, if you feel like you need your space, but that’s not how we function. We’re in there with everybody, and everybody can sit at the table and talk. It just makes it feel like such a great community. That’s what he brings to it. And his confidence is the best. I have worked on projects in the past, and I’m not gonna say what, but I’ve done a lot of stuff in Romania, where it seemed like they were unsure of what they were doing and I felt like, “Direct me, please. Tell me what to do.” And you don’t have that with James. He knows exactly what to do.

What did you learn about filmmaking, from working in film and TV in Romania? When it comes to the production side of things and how projects are made, what couldn’t you do there that you’ve been able to do in your work in the States?

BISU: First of all, the most important thing is the scale. Anything that you do in Hollywood is pretty much for the whole world to see, whereas something that you do in Romania usually stays in that country. That would be the main thing. And then, what I really love is the unions. I love that I feel like I’m protected. I love that not just me, but everybody is protected. You don’t get that in Romania. There is no union. There’s nobody that says, “You can work for 17 hours and that’s it.” Sometimes you have to wake up after three hours of sleep and go back to set. I really feel that safety here in America, where I feel like everything is going according to plan. There’s a discipline. Nobody on set is there without a reason. There is nobody that’s just waiting around and looking around. The set is a lot tighter here than I would say it is in Romania. It’s this giant mechanism and everybody is an integral part of it. That doesn’t always happen over there. And just the way that everything moves, it’s a lot faster. Material gets put out a lot faster. It’s like a factory and you’re just trying to keep up with it. That doesn’t really happen in Romania. It’s a lost slower. I was born in ‘87 during Communism, so the first sitcom that I was in at 16 was the first Romanian sitcom. Romania had never done a Romanian-produced sitcom, so you can imagine how much they had to do, to even get close to where the film production is here. They’re growing and they’re doing their best, but it is a country that just got out of Communism in 1989. We cannot compete, unfortunately, but they’re getting there. There are a lot of good people and a lot of great talent in Romania, so I hope to see more. I feel like, for now, I’m like the only Romanian that people meet in the U.S.

No matter the reaction that people have to this reveal in this film, the sequence in the holding cell and the whole surrounding police precinct is remarkable and impressive. What was it like for you to see that in the finished film? What were you most impressed with, when it came to how that was all pulled off?

BISU: The most important thing to me was the way that James entangled the reveal on the VHS tape and the reveal in the cell because that was really important. It had to be at the same time, but not step on top of each other, so it had to move together. When I ended up seeing the final product, I felt a release. That was one of the things that I put into it, all the desire to take control of all of the bad things that have happened. Most of us women have been through things like that in life, unfortunately, and I think I’ve been bottling that up. And then, this scene came in and it was literally like, “Kill everybody.” It really felt like that. It felt like I was hooting and screaming, and I heard that’s what people do in theaters as well. I’m actually gonna go watch it with a friend, and I cannot wait to see people’s reaction. I know it’s gonna feel like a release of anger and of exercising your demons. I’m very happy that it achieved that, fully. Nobody is left.

That is certainly one way to do it.

BISU: Yeah.

You’re also in the film, so what was it like to work as an actor in it? Did you have a hand in creating the character for yourself?

BISU: Oh, my God, yes. We both knew that we wanted me to have a small part in the movie. I’m not the kind of person that’s like, “Oh, we’re creating a movie, so I’m gonna be the lead.” No. I want the best person for the job. I do not care. The acting part was something where, if it fit, then it fit. If not, then I was just gonna stick with the writing and the executive producing. But we felt like there was some space for a little crime scene technician, called Winnie. I really wanted to play something goofy and something fun. She’s excited about murders and crimes. It’s a big passion for her. And then, she’s also obsessed with Kekoa and he doesn’t notice anything about her. It’s just completely over his head. She’s almost like a nuisance, but not even that. She’s just non-existent.

I never get to play that, and I always get killed. That was a big one. I was like, “Do we kill Winnie or not?” James said, “No.” I said, “I think it would be fun, in the scene when she’s hiding and Gabriel puts on his gloves and his outfit and leaves, she’s breathing a sigh of relief, and then a blade goes through her skull.” He was like, “I don’t want to kill Winnie. I think she’s a lovable character. I think people will like her and they’re not gonna be happy if she dies.” And he was completely right. I got so many messages from people being like, “This is the first movie where your husband doesn’t kill you.” In The Nun, I die twice. I’m already dead, and then they set me on fire and shoot me with a shotgun. In The Conjuring 3, I’m jumping off a cliff and then I’m an apparition. It’s a whole thing. So, in this one, Winnie survives and continues to obsess over Kekoa for the rest of her days.

Thank you so much for making this completely insane movie because it was an absolute blast to see and to talk about.

BISU: That means everything. This movie was made for the lovers of this blend of genres, and if they didn’t like it, we’d be screwed. It was made for them. It’s not for everybody. So, the fact that you love it, thank you.

No pressure or anything, but now I’m dying to see what you guys do next.

BISU: I’m just like, “Oh, my God, now they’re gonna expect a crazy thing like Malignant, so we have to really step up.”

Malignant is in theaters and available to stream at HBO Max.

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